A billowing tent with lit furnaces underneath dominated Red Square from Monday to Wednesday this week.
The set up was part of the Tacoma Museum of glass Mobile Hot Shop, a program that takes the art of glassblowing out of the museum and into the public scene.
Rebecca Jones, the museum’s coordinator of the event, said the furnaces are fueled by propane and require time to reach the proper temperature for glassblowing — 2,200 degrees.
This is why museum employees set up the hot shop on campus two days before the event began Wednesday morning.
In front of the tent were dozens of chairs, but few people chose to sit in them, preferring to get up as close as possible to the creation of the glass.
A table stood among the seats, laid out with candy, Tacoma Museum of Glass internship opportunities and a drawing to win a pair of free museum tickets.
During the event, the MC — Morgan Peterson — made observations and explained the glassmaking process, as it was happening, with a microphone.
A glass blower herself, Peterson was able to provide a variety of commentary and answer questions.
She said the method of glassblowing they performed was in the Italian style and that Seattle is a major area for the art because of the influence of Dale Chihuly, a famed glass artisan and Tacoma local. "Seattle and Tacoma are the main hubs of glassblowing pretty much in the world right now, besides Murano [Italy]," Peterson said.
Glass blowers made about six pieces, primarily creating cups of a transparent pink color called copper ruby. One piece glassblowers created was a dragon-stemmed goblet — a dragon with wings composed the stem of the goblet.
Upon completion, Jones said all art goes into a special oven called an annealor, where they are kept at 900-940 degrees for 14 hours until the gradual cooling process begins. Without this step, the glass would not last.
Ninety percent of the mobile hot shop’s destinations have been schools, Jones said. College visits began just last year, after the Museum received a grant from the Washington State Arts Commission to travel to college campuses.
"I really felt the need to focus on connecting better with the college-age students," Jones said. So far, the hot shop has visited the University of Puget Sound, South Puget Sound Community College and the University of Washington Tacoma.
The hot shop also visits local community events such as the art-focused Tacoma First Night Festival. They have also traveled as far away as California and Arkansas, Jones said.
Before setting up the hot shop, the museum coordinated safety procedures with the Pierce County Fire Department. Jones said all of the equipment is also custom-made with fail-safes and all the artists are glass technicians and well trained.
Many of the students observing had been to the glass museum before.
First-year Kelsey Johnson said, "it’s really interesting to hear the process [of glassblowing]. It kind of makes me want to like, take a class or something." She said it was better than seeing the glass blown in the museum, because you could move a lot closer to the process and see more of the art being created.
Another observer, first-year Brendan Stanton, had also been to the glass museum before. "It’s really interesting to see the creativity formed in different pieces of glass — each artist’s creativity," Stanton said. "It’s kind of neat because it’s a different art form than you normally find."
Stanton said he thought it was a great way to expose more people to the art of glassblowing and would like to blow glass himself at some point in the future.
The Tacoma Glass museum’s goal with the Mobile Hot Shop, is to educate people and provide students who may not be able to afford a trip to the museum with the artistic glassblowing experience, Jones said. "It’s really exciting that we can go out to schools and bring the magic of glassblowing out to them."
Jones hopes the glass created can be donated to PLU and put on display for students to see.